There’s no way any review of Metallica’s one-night-only concert at the Apollo Theater in Harlem can effectively capture the event itself. It was a private show held by SiriusXM, and the majority of the small crowd was made up of SiriusXM subscribers lucky enough to win tickets. (The concert also aired live on SiriusXM’s new, limited-run channel Mandatory Metallica.) And “small” is perhaps an understatement here: The Apollo seats 1,500 people; the last time Metallica played New York City, it was at Yankee Stadium, which seats more than 50,000. Howard Stern was among those in attendance at the Apollo; he wasn’t in a private box or anything, he was just seated toward the front of the venue, maybe Row F or so. I was in the second-to-last row — Row Q — and I was still closer to the stage than I get at most club shows. It was not a concert; it was a dream reality somehow colliding and blending with this one. Drinks were free. T-shirts were free. Waiters were walking around carrying plates of chicken-on-skewers and pigs-in-blankets. Quite delicious! And, of course, free. The fact that it also happened to be my birthday is a totally irrelevant coincidence, but I’m mentioning it here because I imagine my own euphoric reaction was slightly elevated by that fact. Well, that and the booze.
Of course, no one goes to a show for passed hors d’oeuvres, and no one would give a shit about seeing Metallica in a tiny room if Metallica did not absolutely blow the doors off that tiny room. But man, within three songs — and they kicked it off with “Hit The Lights,” “Master Of Puppets,” and “Ride The Lightning” — those doors were gone. There were no pyrotechnics or props or film clips: It was just four 50-year-old dudes on a small stage absolutely fucking blasting through two hours of the best heavy metal ever written. Indeed two-thirds of the 18-song set was culled from Metallica’s genre-defining first four albums; of the remaining six songs, three were from 1991′s radio-friendly-but-not-universally-despised “Black Album,” leaving only three post-’91 tracks to fill out the set. (Check out the full setlist at the bottom of this post.) The recognition of that fact — that 5/6 of a perfect Metallica set in 2013 is composed of songs released more than 20 years ago — must be something of a drag for Metallica. They’re in fighting form on stage, in better shape and more energetic than most metal bands half their age; James Hetfield’s voice sounds deeper today than it did when he first recorded those classic songs, but it remains every bit as powerful and true. But if the audience’s appetite for nostalgia bothers the band, they sure as hell don’t let it show. At the Apollo, they were on fire for the full two hours — smiling, kinetic, excited, appreciative — and those flames were doused in alcohol by the crowd, which was going BANANAS.
Metallica was in town for two other reasons: to promote their very strange-looking new 3D film Through The Never, and to play “Enter Sandman” at Yankee Stadium for Mariano Rivera’s farewell ceremony (video below). The evening at the Apollo was billed “Never Before … And Never Again.” The phrase was a play on the film’s title, as well an apt description of the event: It was Metallica’s first time ever playing the Apollo, and it’s hard to imagine such an event occurring a second time. It was simply a universe of stars in very special, unlikely alignment. And there’s no way to rationally analyze such an event. I’m still floating, still pinching myself: On my birthday, I got to see the seminal band of my musical identity — and more importantly, the best heavy metal band ever — in a beautiful, small, historic venue, playing a slate of straight classics with electric intensity. It was very possibly the best concert I’ve ever witnessed, but I don’t even know how to rank such an experience, and I certainly don’t have words to describe it.
[photos by Greg Cristman]
Metallica @ Apollo Theater, NYC 9/21/13 setlist:
“Hit The Lights”
“Master Of Puppets”
“Ride The Lightning”
“Harvester Of Sorrow”
“The Day That Never Comes”
“The Memory Remains”
“Broken, Beat, And Scarred”
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”
“Sad But True”
“For Whom The Bell Tolls”
“Nothing Else Matters”
“Seek And Destroy”
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